The Authority of the Church

By Bishop Arthur Kulah

When we open to Matthew 28:16-20, we read these words, “…Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded  you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

It is this authority that our Lord and our Savior has entrusted into our hands. This authority, as recorded in Matt. 28:16-20, has been described by church historians as the “Charter of the Church.” Biblical theologians have called it the “Divine Imperative,” and evangelists call it the “Great Commission.” No matter what name you call it, it is our authority, indeed, our mandate.

According to our Lord’s mandate, we have the authority from him to do three things: To evangelize; to make disciples; and to teach.

There is a difference between evangelism and discipleship; yet they are two sides of the same coin. Evangelism is the conversion of sinners, the winning of souls and bodies for Christ. Discipleship is the process by which the convert grows and matures into the likeness of Christ.

Evangelism marks the beginning of the Christian life. Discipleship is the process towards growth and maturity. The disciple is one who follows and obeys Jesus Christ. The disciple does not only follow Christ; he or she walks with Christ and learns so much from Christ that people cannot tell the difference between Christ and the disciple.

The disciple is a mature Christian who walks and talks the Christian faith; one whose entire existence is controlled and directed by the Holy Spirit. The convert is the milk-drinking Christian (Heb. 5:11-13). The disciple is the Christian who eats solid spiritual food (5:14). The convert may have a weak faith but the disciple has a faith rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ and the Word of God.

The challenge before our United Methodist Church is to cultivate and maintain Christian maturity so that we will truly be disciples, for we cannot make disciples when we ourselves are not disciples. We cannot call others to obey the Holy Spirit when we ourselves do not have the patience. We cannot make disciples when we allow problems, even little problems, to distract the church from its focus.

Beloved, the church has always had crises. As we enter the new millennium, we will have more crises. We may have diverse and complex crises. But we should never allow God’s church to be weakened or even divided over those crises. For if we do, we will be like a house our Master described as being built on sand, and when the wind came, it broke down. But instead, we should listen, watch, pray, pray, pray until we accept and use the crisis as a means to strengthen, to unite, and indeed give us a sense of Christian maturity in Jesus Christ.

My dearly beloved, I urge you to let us focus on Christ and move this church forward by a Christian witness exemplary of true believers.

But there is more. We must continue to win souls and bodies for Christ. We must continue to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We the church must continue to be involved in social services that bring healing and reconciliation among and to those who are marginalized. However, our primary responsibility, our primary mission, our primary focus must be and ought to be the proclamation of the gospel. We have no choice. We have no options.

Today, we, whether in America or Africa, have many choices as to what we eat, what we read, and what we see. . . .But when it comes to evangelism, we have no choice but to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified and resurrected.

In his autobiography, entitled A Magnificent Obsession, the late Bishop William B. Cannon had this to say about evangelism: “Indeed, in the New Testament, Christian proclamation is emphasized, not discussion and dialogue. The apostles were not interested in what people thought. Their sole concern was divine truth as revealed in Jesus Christ. When the church loses this realization, it ceases to be the church. It is no longer the body of Christ, the continuance in time of his incarnation.”

In giving us this authority, Christ promised that we would not go alone. His presence would be with us to the end of the age. This is the blessed assurance we have. The source of our authority is always present.

Authority for what? We claim the authority to make disciples, to act in God’s name, and to teach. Let us use this authority wisely. May God bless us forever. Amen.

This is an excerpt of a sermon from Bishop Arthur F. Kulah of Liberia at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The full sermon appeared in the July/August issue of Good News.